Unravelling the mysteries of telecoms resource inventory

22 October 2019

Unravelling the mysteries of telecoms resource inventory

Telecoms resource inventory management has become an increasingly important topic of late. That’s because telecoms operators are seeking to adopt a more agile orientation so that they can deliver services faster and become more proactive in their operations, all while streamlining and reducing expenditure. All well and good – but what does this have to do with inventory? And, in this context what do we really mean by telecoms resource and network inventory?

What is telecoms resource inventory?

Any telecoms or communications service depends on a number of resources for its delivery and operation. If we go back to the days of basic telephony, we had several fundamental components. These included:

  • A telephone
  • A connection between the telephone and the pole carrying the telephone cables
  • A local exchange, to terminate all nearby telephone cables
  • Transit infrastructure

And so on. To activate a phone service, the telecoms company had to deliver a telephone, install the local wire and connect it to the cable carried by the telephone poles. The cable needed to be conveyed all the way to the local exchange, from which it ultimately derived power.

Only then could the device be used for making and receiving calls. With manual exchanges, the telephonists would know which lines were active and which were not. With automated exchanges, such information needed to be provisioned in linked systems so that routing and connections could be made. To achieve even this simple service, the telecoms company needed to understand all elements in the chain, from physical goods (the telephone, the wires, the poles), to the circuit established, to the phone number allocated to the device (a virtual identity). Collectively, these elements comprise what we now refer to as “telecoms resource inventory”.

Why does telecoms resource inventory management matter?

Of course, the portfolio of services offered by telecoms operators has become increasingly diverse and complex, but the principle remains the same. In order to deliver a service, an operator must have a comprehensive overview of the all the elements that are required to deliver it. This extends to physical assets, such as:

  • Equipment - ISP - Inside Plant
    • Interior inventory of Equipment
    • Evidence of the internal hierarchy of physical devices "stand-shelf-slot-card-port". This serves to detail the physical records of such devices
    • Subject to registration as telecom, IT and support facilities
  • Cable - OSP - Outside Plant
    • External devices provide evidence of any external physical device that is used to connect internal physical devices across the relevant medium. This level includes evidence of cables (copper, optics, coax) and radio network (PTP, PTMP).
    • This represents the records of "functional" physical layer network inventory and is used to register the same set of physical components designed to transfer media between two specific nodes.
  • And much, much more!

In other words, the entirety of the physical asset base on which the network is built. In addition, there are other assets that must be included in the inventory, such as the technologies used, the logical and virtual resources required (for example, our old friend the telephone number is an early example of a virtual resource).

There’s more too – but suffice to say that operators must obtain an accurate representation of all assets in their network – and, in many likely future cases, beyond the boundaries of their network. The problem is that few operators are really in possession of such a picture.

What are the current problems with telecoms resource inventory management?

Well, just as inventory started as a relatively simple challenge, as networks have grown and technologies have evolved, so has the range of assets that must be included. Indeed many operators have grown, not only organically, but also through acquisition and mergers – with the result that their assets and resources have grown too. Some operators may have maintained a perfectly accurate picture of their inventory, but most have a fragmented view, the negative impact of which has been compounded when combined with another, equally incomplete view. While operators can quickly grow their businesses with mergers and acquisitions, consolidating new infrastructure can be complex.

In fact, many not only have an incomplete picture of their inventory assets, they may have paper-based systems alongside outdated software solutions. This is a real problem and, through time, severely constrains an operator’s ability to activate and deploy service that are purchased – or even to define their capabilities. There is a reason why activating a fibre connection can take days, even though the assets are already in place. Of course, it shouldn’t – it should be automatic and take place as quickly as possible, once an order has been confirmed

Confronted by more and more challengers and an increasingly sophisticated set of competitors, operators need to take control and ensure effective telecoms resource inventory management. Worse, the advent of 5G is exacerbating an already urgent situation. Why?

Well, 5G requires a massive increase in the number of cell sites, a process known as densification. But, in contrast to previous generations of mobile technology, in which Line of Sight and other microwave techniques have often been used for backhaul, most 5G sites will require fibre connectivity to provide the required capacity and speed.

This creates an obvious problem? Mobile Network Operators need to consider their RAN inventory, while their partners in the fibre domain need to ensure that they have accurate inventory systems in place in order to light up and deploy the fibre necessary – or to target their investments to keep pace with the deployment of new radio sites. There will also be a need to align any internal with external systems.

So, where does that leave us? Well, it should now be clear that a variety of factors are conspiring to make effective telecoms resource inventory management a priority for operators of all kinds.

  1. Many operators have an inaccurate or incomplete record of their resource inventory
  2. This limits their competitive agility and ability to deploy and activate new services
  3. Competitors with more accurate and up-to-date inventory solutions are able to win against laggards
  4. 5G and massive rollout of fibre and cells increases this challenge and provides a clear opportunity to rectify the situation

However, it should also be equally clear that telecoms resource inventory is not, by itself, a complex topic. It simply refers to the assets and resources used by operators to build their networks and to create, deliver and manage services to their customers. It’s just there are a lot of them – but with the right solution, such as CROSS, it can easily be managed.

Resolving these challenges requires a new approach to telecoms resource inventory management, one in which operators consolidate their inventory data into a single database that provides a complete picture of all assets, and which can evolve through time. Does such a solution exist? Contact us to find out!